Last reviewed 11 October 2019
An increasing number of nurseries are linking with old people’s care homes amidst growing evidence that there are significant benefits for both generations, as well as the wider community. Bringing the young and elderly together can boost children’s wellbeing, language development and social skills, as well as changing attitudes towards ageing. Elizabeth Walker looks at the benefits for young children and the practical steps early years providers can take to develop intergenerational practice in their settings.
What is intergenerational care?
Intergenerational care is the practice of bringing the young and elderly together by introducing nurseries and care homes to one another. It is thought to have originated in Japan in the 1970s when Shimada Masaharu successfully merged a nursery school and care home in Tokyo.
Since then there has been a growing movement of intergenerational care worldwide with practice ranging from weekly care home visits to permanent co-location of nurseries and care homes. In the UK, Apples and Honey Nightingale was the first dedicated nursery and care home to be set up in 2017 and since then a further 40 have been created with others in development.
There has also been increased media coverage recently on the subject of intergenerational care and Channel 4’s programme Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds documented the impact of introducing a pre-school class to a group of older people and the benefits it afforded both generations.
What are the benefits to young children?
The benefits of intergenerational projects for older people, such as delayed mental decline, improved wellbeing, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of disease, are widely acknowledged but there is also now clear evidence of the positive outcomes for young children when they mix with the older generation.
A recent report by United for All Ages highlights that Britain is one of the most age segregated countries in the world and calls for all nurseries and schools to partner with older people’s care or housing providers. The report examines the benefits of intergenerational care for children and young people and shows how greater interaction between age groups can help to tackle the issues facing the younger generation as well as counter ageism in Britain.
The research shows the benefits to children can include:
development of communication and language skills
increased reading and literacy skills
positive impact on wellbeing
building self-esteem and confidence
boosting children’s personal, social and emotional development
development of empathy and kindness
being more school ready
changing attitudes to ageing
building a sense of community.
The United for Ages research also finds that intergenerational projects can improve health, promote social mobility and create opportunities for disadvantaged children and it aims to help create 500 intergenerational shared sites by 2023.
While increasing numbers of children do not have the benefit of living near grandparents or mixing with the older generation, the value of intergenerational projects should not be underestimated. Partnerships between nurseries and care homes can help children to form relationships with a more diverse range of people and to learn to value difference through shared experiences.
How to link with a care home
Early years providers can contact care homes in the community to ask about potential partnerships and local councils may also be able to provide support. United for Ages can also help childcare providers to audit their current intergenerational activities and to identify new opportunities in local areas.
Key points to consider when approaching a care home about a partnership include:
allowing sufficient time to discuss shared expectations and the outcomes you are looking for
establishing the best time for visits to take place and the duration that suits both age groups – regular visits will also enable relationships to develop
deciding where the visits will take place and ensuring the environment is safe for young children
ensuring any planned activities will be suitable for both generations
ensuring there are sufficient staff members from both provisions to support the visits.
Challenges and risk assessment
Some parents, children or residents may have reservations about taking part in an intergenerational project and they should never feel forced to be involved. Early years providers should always consider the needs of the children and the suitability of the age groups involved.
It is important to meet with parents and families before going ahead with a partnership, highlighting the positive impact of intergenerational practice and answering any questions they may have.
Risk assessments must be carried out that cover the journey to the care home, the rooms the children will be using, as well as any activities taking place. Appropriate and accessible toilet facilities should be available, ideally near to where the activity is being held and if possible for the children’s sole use for the duration of the visit.
There needs to be sufficient staff members from both provisions to safeguard everyone involved and maintain ratios at all times. Managers should also check that any supervised visit to another site is covered by the setting’s insurance policy.
The value of bringing generations together through shared activities and experiences is clear, but some careful planning is needed to ensure visits are a success.
Any activities need to be planned well ahead and in partnership with the care home. Staff from both provisions should consider the needs and abilities of the age groups taking part and plan appropriate activities so that everyone feels they have achieved a positive outcome.
Staff should also consider who will be leading the activities and who will be providing any materials or resources involved.
Children can engage with elderly residents through a variety of activities such as singing, baking, gardening, arts and crafts which can reflect areas of learning in the early years foundation stage.
Best practice and action points
Early years providers should:
identify opportunities for linking with a local care home and work in partnership to agree shared expectations and outcomes
communicate the value of intergenerational practice to staff and parents and listen to feedback or concerns
ensure there are sufficient staff members to support visits and maintain ratios at all times
conduct risk assessments and check insurance policies for any offsite visits
plan activities carefully in partnership with care home staff to ensure they are appropriate and accessible for both age groups
work with care home staff to assess and evaluate the visits on a regular basis and identify any areas for development or improvement
identify any areas of staff training that would enhance the project.
Age UK is the UK’s leading charity working to support older people.
Generations Working Together provides information, delivers support and encourages involvement to benefit all of Scotland’s generations.
The next generation: how intergenerational interaction improves life chances of children and young people, United for All Ages, January 2019.
United for All Ages is a “think-do” tank founded in 2010 to create a Britain for all ages, tackling social and economic issues such as loneliness and learning, care and housing.